Let's harness international goodwill by making Dublin world's friendliest city

Thu, Apr 5, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:WHAT’S SO special about Dublin? And how should the capital be promoted? These are important questions. The Dublin region accounts for four out of every 10 jobs in this country.

It is responsible for nearly half of all goods and services produced, and nearly half of tax revenue. To put it simply: without a strong Dublin the rest of the country is banjaxed.

At the moment the capital has little sense of how it is perceived internationally. Meanwhile, the local tourism industry is struggling – along with the rest of the economy – and Dublin Tourism has become a victim of the recession. Its demise is a problem, but also an opportunity.

As tourism agencies go looking for a new way to promote the capital, Dublin City Council is engaging on a project to rebrand the city. These are welcome developments. After all, radical reform is necessary, and yes, the capital needs a new self-portrait. So how should we proceed?

Let’s begin by admitting Dublin is widely resented within Ireland. It was the centre of British occupation; some of us refuse to move on, even 90 years after independence. Last year a survey commissioned by Dublin City Council revealed only 25 per cent of Irish people feel any emotional connection to the capital. This goes down to 15 per cent when you exclude Dubliners.

Let’s also admit that many Dubliners have made themselves prisoners of geography. We must stop thinking of the capital as two places separated by a river.

Dublin faces significant challenges. But we also have a real opportunity. In 2010 nearly three million visitors came here. Last year there was an 8 per cent increase in the number of foreign visitors. Tourists could play a vital role in the rebirth of this clapped-out place, alongside foreign direct investment.

What, then, do both tourists and multinationals like about us? What distinguishes Dublin from every other capital city with a reputation for creativity and innovation? The answer is our people – therein, the opportunity.

I believe that Dublin could become known as the friendliest city in the world. If you think I’m joking, that’s because you have become cynical about “Céad Míle Fáilte”. Alas, we cannot afford the luxury of scepticism any more. It is time to start listening to what other people say about us.

In 2010 the Lonely Planet Guide named Ireland as the friendliest country in Europe.

“Dubliners at their ease are the greatest hosts of all,” it noted, “providing a life-affirming experience that will restore your faith in human nature.” The 2012 edition notes: “The good times may have gone, but Dublin still knows how to have a good time.”

Indeed it does. According to Tourism Ireland, 90 per cent of visitors expect to meet “friendly/ hospitable people”. They are not disappointed. In fact, 94 per cent of visitors cite the people as the highlight of their trip.

The IDA knows conviviality is an asset. Companies often admit that the charm of our people is a key factor in their decision to invest here. Last November, the day after Twitter decided to base itself in Dublin, this newspaper reported: “Friendliness factor swings it for Twitter.”

Here, then, is the opportunity: to harness goodwill by rebranding Dublin as one of the friendliest places on earth. The City of a Thousand Welcomes. The Friendliest City in the World. Europe’s Largest Village. Frankly, the wording matters less than the message: Dublin is a small, friendly city, open for business and happy to meet you.

This process doesn’t need to cost much and the timing is fortuitous as private and public stakeholders are both determined to rebrand Dublin. If we made friendliness central to that identity the world would soon know about it. And if Dublin City Council supported the campaign, Dubliners would realise its value. The benefits would be enormous – not simply for tourism but also for the wider economy.

A positive assertion of Dublin’s identity would be an example to the rest of the country. And the act of promoting friendliness would improve the experience of living here as a reputation for cheerfulness also involves a responsibility. In the drama of civic life everyone plays a part.

Is Dublin ready to go the extra smile? I think so. Consider our experience with City of a Thousand Welcomes. When we began the initiative to introduce tourists to Dublin, our goal was, within three months to find 1,000 volunteer “ambassadors”. Within two weeks we had more than 2,500 applications. A few months ago the Sydney Morning Herald described the service as the best free thing to do in Europe.

Never mind the begrudgers. Dublin is a remarkable city. It does, however, need a new image. Let’s build on what many people outside Ireland think already – for the benefit of our economy, our international standing and our own self-image. Let’s make Dublin the world’s friendliest city.

Trevor White is the director of City of a Thousand Welcomes